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The Shrinking Violet’s 6-point Guide to Promoting Your Novel

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me at jesmondWhen Anne Goodwin rode up to Carrot Ranch with her first flash fiction challenge, I knew she was competent in the saddle — Anne knows her craft. With 61 short stories published, it’s no surprise Inspired Quill picked up her debut novel. However, like many skilled writers, Ann was reluctant to promote her work. In her guest post, Anne addresses how she mastered the launch of her debut novel.

Anne Goodwin, Guest Blog:

I’ve enjoyed Charli’s posts on writer branding, even as I bristled at the idea of considering myself, or my output, a commodity. Yet now I have a genuine product to sell in the form of my debut novel, some of Charli’s expertise must’ve rubbed off on me, because I’m determined to do the best job I can in getting my book to readers. This is very much an idiot’s guide cobbled together from the things I’ve done, or wished I’d done, in the process, and is particularly targeted at the anxious writer who balks at the idea of self-promotion (i.e. most of us, at least in the beginning). I can’t guarantee that following these steps will result in phenomenal sales. I can’t guarantee that it will remove all discomfort from the process. But I do believe that by confronting and managing our anxieties as outlined here we can be confident we’ve given ourselves and our books the best possible chance of success.

1. Cultivate your communities
This isn’t about forging friendships to flog your books. Not only is that slimy and cynical, it’s probably ineffective. But, on the other hand, there’s no point being a shrinking violet. Your relationships, both on and off-line, are an important conflict between you and your readers. This doesn’t mean, as an introvert (as many writers are), you’ve got to transform yourself into a socialite. It’s more a matter of not neglecting those ordinary human qualities of generosity and friendship. I’m not a great networker, but it turns out I have sufficient social capital to generate a mammoth blog tour that’s now in its fourth week and two launch events with forty or more people at each. If I, with a little thought and preparation, can achieve that, just think what Charli Mills, lead buckaroo of the Congress of Rough Writers, could achieve with all the goodwill she’s generated through her support of other writers.

Featured Book

Featured Book

2. Edit your way to a book you can be proud of
Let’s assume you’ve written the best book you possibly can and have secured a publisher or made the decision to self-publish. Isn’t it strange that, no matter how many edits you’ve gone through already, as soon as publication flips from an impossible dream to impending reality, you notice all kinds of new problems with your novel? Now’s the time to bring all those niggles to light and address them, not only for the obvious reason of enhancing your readers’ enjoyment, but also because anything that makes you feel awkward or apologetic about your words will be a barrier to promotion.

So, whether you’re publishing yourself or traditionally, you need to make full use of your editor. Their role needn’t only be to point out what they think can be improved, but to help you sort out any areas with which you aren’t one hundred percent happy. In my own experience, my editor’s suggestions enabled me to look more critically at my novel and make cuts and amendments to sections where she hadn’t felt it necessary to wield her virtual red pen. My editor was also able to reassure me about sections I thought were perhaps a bit iffy; if you trust your editor (and if you don’t perhaps you should find another) it’s a marvellous boost to the ego to receive her enthusiastic endorsement of your words.

3. Work through the limitations
A thorough edit should lead to a text you can be proud of (at least for the moment; many authors report still finding fault with their novels years after publication). Yet perhaps there are still aspects that make you cringe when you think about it making its way in the world? You might worry that you’ve tackled a controversial issue in a way that might upset some readers. You might fear that certain experts will criticise the shallowness of your research. You might be anxious about the overlap between the events in your novel and your own life: will people misconstrue your fiction as autobiographical or will you struggle to keep the personal personal in discussing your book? You might just be concerned that your mother, your hairdresser or your next-door neighbour will think it’s a load of crap.

It’s important not to dismiss such concerns; if you deny or belittle them, they’re more likely to hold you back. Discuss your feelings with trusted friends, your editor, other writers, a therapist. Go to events and observe how more experienced authors manage these areas in relation to their own work. For example, I found it extremely helpful to watch local author, Eve Makis, respond to a question about Armenian history (featured in her novel, The Spice Box Letters) from a reader with an Armenian background (and to discuss the parallels with my own novel afterwards with a close friend).

Your book, especially if it’s fiction, is not the definitive take on a topic, and nor is it meant to be. (It just feels like that, because you’ve spent so much time absorbed within it.) Readers are free to take from it what they wish – and that’s a good thing. But it’s worth addressing your anxieties about creating the perfect book so that you can allow it to be different things to different people.

4. Identify your potential readership
Make a list of everybody who might be interested in reading your book – and I mean everyone! Don’t limit yourself to people you can be fairly sure will like it, or like you enough to pretend they do. Think big and, at this stage at least, don’t let thoughts about the awkwardness of contacting them get in the way. Potential readers include, but are not limited to, anyone who knows you, in whatever role (not only writing), or has known you in the past; people who read your genre; people local to you or to your novel’s setting; and, for an “issue” based novel like mine, communities with a personal interest. I’ve been surprised by pockets of support in places I didn’t expect it but, two and a half weeks post-publication, I’m still knocking on doors I thought would be easier to open.

5. Identify ways of connecting with your readershipblog tour week 4 correct
If you’ve done Step 1 and cultivated your communities and Steps 2 and 3 to produce a book that people will be happy to champion, you will have a lot of people who genuinely want to get the word out. But going beyond your immediate circles takes a little more courage. To get author and expert endorsements, you need to make contact well in advance of publication and to risk (as with those initial submissions) them telling you they don’t like your book. To get reviews, you need to approach reviewers in a courteous manner and accept that they’ll tell the world what they don’t like about your baby, as well as what they do. If you’re self-published, or with a small press like me, it’s amazingly difficult to get your books into bookshops, but often worth approaching your local favourites to give it a try. If they won’t stock your books, they might host you for a signing session, although with the big chains, even this is proving difficult. Some libraries are more amenable, however, especially if you’re doing author events. Don’t forget the local media, both print and radio. They are always pleased to celebrate an achievement, especially if you can demonstrate some connection with the area. I’m expecting to be in my local newspaper this week, in time for a library event the following Tuesday. I also had a feature in a newspaper that had previously published my short stories as part of a regional competition.

6. Make those connections in as pleasurable away as possible
You won’t be able to do everything, so you need to prioritise. If you’re time poor, you might feel it’s not worth your while to write lots of guest blog posts, as I’ve done. On the other hand, if you enjoy writing articles, or want the opportunity to develop your skills in this area, it might be something to invest in. For the things I found tedious (e.g. contacting a local printer to produce some flyers for my launch events) or scary (having a slot on local radio) I focused on the learning opportunities afforded rather than enjoying it or doing it well.

If you’re particularly daunted by the whole thing, perhaps you should go for quick wins to build your confidence. A launch party is great fun, even for shrinking violets, and I was touched how far my guest had travelled and how pleased they were to have been invited to mine.

Making it pleasurable for your supporters is bound to pay dividends. Write good content for those guest posts (obviously, this one is an aberration). Respond promptly to any queries and thank them for their contribution, however small. Because after all, a writer needs her readers. And you might want to do the whole thing again with your next book.

What strategies have you found most useful in promoting your work? What has been most difficult?

full cover (2)

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, and blogs about reading and writing, with a peppering of psychology. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was published last month by Inspired Quill. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.


42 Comments

  1. Sherri says:

    Hi Charli & Anne! Just fired up my laptop and had to come straight over to read this.
    Anne, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and excellent insights. I have all this is to come (at least, I hope so!), but you make a vital point that it’s never too early to start planning ahead – but as you say, self-promotion is something that doesn’t come easy to most of us, particularly if it goes hand-in-hand with a love/hate relationship with social media (talking about myself here!).
    I live in Somerset, but my story (memoir) takes place primarilly in Suffolk and Los Angeles, so your points 4 & 5 are particularly helpful, giving me a great deal of food for thought.
    You have an amazing blog tour going on, so interesting what you share about ‘social capital’. One of my many cries is ‘but I don’t know that many people!’. Again, you’ve helped me think about digging deeper…
    Thank you too for your encouragement and practical advice for those times when we struggle with our limitations, which I do a fair bit in the writing of memoir.
    Truthfully, I just want to write and hope that all this marketing ‘stuff’ will just disappear and go away. Reading your guest post gives me that little shove I need to walk towards it one step at a time rather than run the other way, and ultimately to believe in my book and not give up.
    BTW, speaking of good, trusted editors, do you have any advice as to how to find one? I have no idea how to go about this. Thanks!
    And again, I wish you every success with Sugar and Snails, which I do very much look forward to reading.
    Thank you again so much Charli for your amazing support for all of us here. I’m so glad to be a Rough Writer ❤

    Liked by 7 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Agreed — Anne has great insights to share, and better yet, we get to watch her in action. I’m glad she makes this topic approachable for those more keen on the writing than the marketing.

      And asking about an editor is a great way to use community connections! I use WriteDivas (yes, I have my own Diva for an editor), but you might want someone from the UK. Not only do you want someone capable of editing, but also someone who has familiarity with your book market. An example, is that my editor knows some of the peeves publishers have, and raised a few red flags for me my draft.

      So happy to have Rough Writers to support! 😀 ❤

      Liked by 4 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      I’m glad you found it useful, Sherri. I do think you can opt out of promotion if that’s REALLY not what you’re about, but you (we) need to know that very few books will sell themselves. So if you’re going to do it, if you want to find readers beyond your immediate circle then yes, it’s a good idea to start early and dig deep for those connections.
      Unfortunately I can’t recommend an editor as mine was all done in-house by the publishing team, but I’m sure some of the self published authors will have suggestions.
      And yes, hurrah for Charli, such a great champion of the Rough Writers.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Sherri says:

        Thank you again Anne, and yes, agreeing with Norah, this post is very good content indeed. You have every right to be confident and let it shine through in your marketing.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Norah says:

    How lovely to meet Anne over here at the Carrot Ranch, Charli. What great advice she has offered. It is all very worthwhile. Funny that she mentions the post as an aberration. Is she digging for approval? Well I’ll come up with it. The post is definitely no aberration. I can’t imagine anything like that ever bolting out of the Goodwin stable, even if she doesn’t ride. Anne cites your leadership and guidance, Charli, and Sherri mentions it too. It is wonderful for us writers, at every stage from aspiring to established, to have a campfire around which to share our stories and experiences. Thank you.

    Liked by 7 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      I like having a campfire where we can each share and learn in turn. Anne’s post is definitely worthwhile and her experience will grow as she continues her launch and publishes more books!

      Liked by 5 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      Mm, you’ve caught me out, as you often do, Norah! Not necessarily digging for approval but feeling uncomfortable saying “write good content” in a post which may or may not be considered good content. So making a little joke about it. But you’ve pushed me a bit further to think about the confidence needed to promote your work. While I can honestly say I didn’t know whether this would be useful to others or not, as I’m just a beginner here, I shouldn’t undermine my message by being apologetic for what I’ve produced.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Norah says:

        Great message to learn, author Anne Goodwin! I’ve just given my son similar advice as he prepared to send a manuscript to a publisher. In his cover letter he said that he had “tried to . . .”, and that he “hoped to . . . ” I suggested he word it as if he was successful. I think you have to put that confidence and positive message out there. Hmm. Maybe I should listen to my own advice sometimes! 🙂

        Liked by 4 people

      • Annecdotist says:

        Ha, and I’ve said something similar to Geoff about promoting his novel. Indeed, we don’t always take our own advice – but luckily we have SMAG to support us.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A. E. Robson says:

    This guest post by Anne is one that provides inspiration and insight to fledgling and seasoned writers alike. She has eloquently shared what we might expect if/when we choose to publish our own work. We all benefit from Anne’s guidelines; and, thanks goes out to her for writing and sharing these points.

    So many blogs go off on a tangent without making sense. It is refreshing to read Anne’s shoot from the hip comments. She expounds on areas that we can relate to without dealing with the deep professional jargon of the publishing world that can sometimes be intimidating.

    Thank you, Charli for including Anne’s post at the Carrot Ranch. Others have voiced it, and I certainly concur, we are very lucky to have you, Charli, and the Carrot Ranch as part of our writing world.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      I often have trouble, too, with the jargon and the unexplained ideas in the book publishing market. One reason I started to write about a writer’s platform is because I had a couple of breakthroughs in understanding what was being said. It just wasn’t being clearly expressed! Anne has done a great job of breaking down her promotional process and sharing her experience in a clear and practical way. And thank you for being a part of my ranch! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      Again, glad it was useful. I also don’t like jargon, although I’ve probably not used it because I don’t actually know what most of it means.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This. Is. Awesome. Great intro, Charli. And Anne… I love this post! #1 in particular. These steps are all crucial to success, I believe, but don’t badger people and yet don’t be a shrinking violet…that is so difficult for so many. (*ahem* Me) Also, #4 and #5 are ones I would need desperately to work on.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Anne left us balanced advice! I like the image that comes to mind of a badger and shrinking violet…:-) We can all work on our process and see Anne’s in action as she goes into week 4.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      That’s such an important point, Sarah, getting that balance. I haven’t quite thought it through but I think if we working with real relationships that are based on give-and-take, people are queuing up to help, especially if you have but they recognise as a quality product. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support at my launch events and the blog tour, which has been far beyond my expectations. Likewise, although we still talking very small numbers, my potential readers are greater than I would have thought, because most people seem to enjoy being part of the celebration.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. TanGental says:

    I read these messages avidly, sit back and sigh at my inability to do a fraction of what Anne does, or Charli recommends. I should do so much more yet it all seems… I’m not sure I even have the words for the pathetic excuses I might glibly trot out. Thank you both for shining a light on some of my own dark corners. I will now get in touch with the local bookshops here and the libraries and see what they might be able to do with me…. hmm.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Anne give us a good example of structure and process, and the good thing about her tips is that it’s never too late or too little to incorporate. You have fabulous books, Geoff, and just as Anne realized, it is important to get those books in the hands of readers. Best to you in reaching out to your bookshops and libraries! Your launch happens soon and you have a clear role model in Anne. Yet, also remember that it is okay to put your own pace and twist to it (like writing a plot). And you are welcome to do a guest post if you are up to a blog tour! 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • TanGental says:

        I talked to Anne about the tour and I’m certainly up for it. I’m wondering if maybe I should do one with book three, sort of launch that and at the same time reference how I’ve come to do this particular group. Or I could do one now…. Always vacillating…

        Liked by 3 people

      • Charli Mills says:

        I like what Anne has accomplished with coming out with a strong scheduled tour. Her book is getting great circulation and as she said, others are happy to be part of the celebratory launch. Yet, I understand too, what a daunting task it is — to set up post, write and circulate. Mondays are a good day for posting and most likely I’d do the same for you, as Anne. I’d give an intro post the week before. Topic is open! I’m always curious about process. I’m wondering how a prolific blogger also finds time to be a prolific book publisher? Or why did you decide to go Indie vs. traditional? Or what was it like to write about a book so globally set? No pressure! The ranch is always open to support the Rough Writers and Friends!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Annecdotist says:

      I’m pleased if it’s spurred you on to do a bit more, Geoff, but I’m not about making anyone feel guilty about what they might not choose to do. As Charli says, we do this at our own pace and style – although I definitely think you shouldn’t put off the tour until Book 3. I’ll be freeing up a bit of space in the blogosphere in a couple of months (poor joke based on the mammoth range of my tour) so there’ll be room for you then – alternatively you might recognise that this space is without limits and set the thing in motion this week.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Good on you Anne for biting the bullet and going for it in such a well planned fashion. The advice you give is also superb and I will remember it for a time in the future. I think it is true to say that writing the book is the easy bit, from the editing to selling it becomes harder. Look forward to reading it in the hopefully near future.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. jeanne229 says:

    Finally got a chance to look at this. Been flirting with it all week! Really super overview of your experience Anne…great guide to those ready for these steps. Your points about using an editor really hit home with me. I got some help from an editor friend on the first draft of the book I did for my client, but came out of that experience with a fresh understanding of all those caveats about doing any kind of business with friends. It may work sometimes but she loved me too much to help me eliminate some serious flaws. Fortunately my client was willing to hire a professional editor. Have learned so much through working with her…painful as it sometimes is. Anyone who is serious about putting something out commercially must get an objective and professional eye to gander it first. Excited to see where you go from here. Looking forward to catching up on some of your blog tour posts!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. J.M.D. Reid says:

    Really great article. I definitely fall in the shrinking violet category of people.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Terry Tyler says:

    This is a very good post indeed, Anne – I must be even more shrinking that you because I could never do a launch party or book signing. Would make me feel as though I was showing off, or presuming that everyone else thought it was as much of a big deal as I did!!!! I know it’s NOT like that, that’s just how it would make me feel. I’ll tell you about my dad when I was growing up some time, ha ha!!

    As I only do Kindle books I rely on online stuff – you’re so right about the social capital thing. I am not keen on organised blog tours, as but I seem to be doing one, somehow… I lined up 9 book bloggers a month before the book came out, but since then no less than 10 people have offered to feature me on their blogs, doing all sorts of different posts, from a straight ‘this is my new book’, to a review and interview, to a hilarious Christmas feature on Jan Ruth’s blog! This is so kind – I review books and do my Zodiac Files because I love doing it, but I’m guessing some of these kind offers must be because I do what I do!

    Oh yes, and Sugar and Snails is still on the to read list, haven’t forgotten!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Annecdotist says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Terry. It wasn’t until quite recently that I realised you didn’t do actual physical books – your online presence is so polished you seem to have that all sussed. I’m not surprised people are offering to host you, and funny that you can end up doing a blog tour even without planning it (I never imagined mine would stretch to five weeks, thanks to the generosity of the blogosphere).
      I can appreciate your reticence about the launch party, but having had a fabulous time at both of mine, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Perhaps easiest for a first novel (apart from the fact that you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing) as people can appreciate what a big step it is even if they are not so interested in the book itself. I have been meaning to do a how-to post about it, but still not managed to find the time, although I have (three months after it happened) just posted some videos from my first launch
      http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/launch-party-videos.html

      And no, I never got to show off in my childhood, but I reckon it’s never too late to learn!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. jan says:

    All good advice! I gave up promoting my books – just couldn’t do it. But I am enjoying all my blogging buddies.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. […] expectations of what you’ll need to do to bring your book to the reader’s attention. Even a shrinking violet can publicise her own novel and you don’t need a publicist to organise a successful blog tour or to solicit online reviews. […]

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  12. […] There can’t be a better job for an introvert than a writer: a fine excuse for retreating into one’s own head. Alone at my keyboard in the daytime, sitting reading a novel at night, going out and actually meeting people becomes a treat. It’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve written a novel that features an introvert, a prickly character with a secret to hide. But the days when writers wrote and someone else handled the publicity are long gone. How does the shrinking violet promote her work? […]

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